Grand Theft Auto V’s Online Heists show the game at its best. They’re full of the tailored, cinematic action which you’d expect to see – and have seen – in the game’s single player section, but also have that sense of untethered freedom and choice which makes GTA so good, as you can choose your own paths in these co-operative missions, with friends on board to make it even better.
It’s just a shame that, so far anyway, they’re paired with the game at its worst, as you attempt to connect to servers only to be met with connection issue warnings, or where it kicks you out of the lobby as you’re getting ready to go, right back out into the single player. These issues will likely fade with time, but it’s happened before at GTA’s launch and a year and a half of anticipation shouldn’t have escaped Rockstar’s attention.
It’s also the way that the heists are structured that plays a part in this: they’re not streamlined, instead being separated into different set-up and finale sections, each requiring you to get back into the host’s lobby rather than just putting you there after you’ve finished one part. These could’ve easily been a menu option or separate area entirely rather than trying to integrate it into the open world, which only acts as an arduous method of navigating to the mission. But, when you do get into that lobby, and you get beyond the set-up section into the Heist itself, it’s a truly brilliant experience.
The first heist is a rather low-key bank robbery, with only two players able to take on the task. Yet it still has that brilliance which permeates the best Grand Theft Auto missions, as you complete two simple set-up missions where you first scout the bank and then steal an armoured car to use as your getaway vehicle.
But then, when you choose who’ll be the driver and who’ll be the one doing the drilling to open the safety deposit box, and as you choose your team outfit with masks and disguises, it all really comes together. The heist leader gets to decide all of this of course, as well as the individual cuts of the money gained, so you’d better sweet talk them to make sure you get a fair percentage.
What follows is an action-packed heist on a small out-of-town bank. A hacking mini-game – used to open the safe’s door – takes place on the way to the job, which provides a nice distraction from the usual watching the road while riding shotgun. And when you get there, things get really exciting, as you know the cops are on their way when the alarm sounds and have to get out of there as quickly as possible with the cash, escaping in both stylish and ridiculous fashion. It’s all very cinematic, to say the least, playing out very similarly to the single player heists but with that superb co-op element.
When you get to the four-player heists, the stakes are even higher, and the fun even greater. Whether stealing a plane from a gang or a prison bus as it’s in transit, you’ll feel some degree of freedom in your approach to the set up missions, quickly making choices and communicating with your team. It uses the playground of San Andreas and Blake County to its full advantage, with cross-country drives being a big part of each mission, and unexplored settings being used.
And the heist itself feels like a proper finale to the missions that precede it, as you use all of the tools you’ve collected over the various set-up tasks to complete a big task. The first four-player heist brings back in that plane and prison bus to stage an epic prison breakout with multiple parts, featuring infiltration teams, demolitions, and even air support. When it all comes together, it’s a fantastic – yet hard – multi-level mission.
It becomes even more awesome when you’re each fulfilling your roles, splitting up the team and focusing your skills. You’re all communicating, of course, but you’ll have different tasks to complete and there’s plenty of replayability here as you take on the heists once more from a different perspective.
Before each heist becomes available, you’ll have to wait for a phonecall, which delays things even further and doesn’t really need to be part of it, particularly when attempting to enter a lobby already feels unnecessarily bloated. You’ll be eager to get to the next one, but Rockstar understandably want to push you to the other new content too.
That content includes Adversary Modes, which also bring something different to GTA Online, providing some new challenges which pit asymmetrical teams against each other. One sees two cyclists attempt to outrun a duo in trucks, which can be quite amusing, while others involve chasing and hunting a player with a big arsenal of guns. These are amusing distractions, but the real meat of the content is of course those heists.
GTA’s Online Heists seem as though they’re definitely worth the wait: the gameplay mimics the best points found in the single player, and from the outset they’re full of fantastic moments. But their execution, and the way they’ve been integrated into the game – coupled with plenty of server issues and a few bugs – let them down somewhat. Still, with time that’ll all get better, and they’re definitely worth experiencing.